MADRID – Luis Suarez scored twice with assists from Leo Messi, but FC Barcelona dropped two vital points in the title race for La Liga as they were twice pegged back in a 2-2 draw away to an impressive Celta Vigo.
Although the draw takes Barca a point clear of Real Madrid, their title rivals will open a two-point gap at the top if they win away against bottom club Espanyol on Sunday.
Barca coach Quique Setien put faith in youth in his starting 11 with Riqui Puig, given his first start in midfield. Ansu Fati partnered Messi and Suarez in the Barca attack, while Iago Aspas was the main threat for Celta.
Only six minutes into the game, Gerard Pique hit the bar with a header following a corner by Messi, who later set up Suarez for the opening goal with a flighted free-kick to the far post in the 20th minute.
The game had rhythm, and Celta were almost back in it three minutes later when Brais Mendez was put through by former Barca midfielder Denis Suarez, only for Marc Andre Ter Stegen to get a slight touch to take the ball onto the post.
Barca was controlling the ball with Puig and Messi at the helm, and the Argentinean set up Fati only for the youngster to dwell just enough on the ball for the chance to be wasted before then sending a shot just over the bar himself from around 25 yards.
Celta drew level four minutes after the break as a swift break following an error from Samuel Umtiti allowed Fedor Smolov a simple finish after good work from Okay Yokuslu down the right flank.
Suarez restored Barca’s lead in the 67th minute after pressure from Barca won the ball on the edge of the Celta area, allowing Messi to set him up for a swift turn and finish.
Celta substitute Nolito was denied an equalizer by a fine save from Ter Stegen, but the Barca keeper could do nothing to stop a magnificent free-kick from Aspas, which bent around the outside of the wall to leave him rooted to the spot.
Aspas has now scored in Barca’s last five visits to Celta’s Balaidos Stadium, and Celta should have won the game in the final minute of injury time when Ter Stegen saved again from Nolito. However, the striker really should have scored with the goal at his mercy.
In Saturday’s early kickoff, Athletic Club Bilbao boosted their hopes of qualifying for Europe as Raul Garcia, Oihan Sancet and Asier Villalibre scored in a 3-1 win at home over struggling Mallorca.